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Pennsylvania Equality Project 

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What will 2018 bring?

Posted by david_m94@hotmail.com on December 31, 2017 at 7:30 PM Comments comments (0)

With the country taking several large steps in the past year toward the right or even far-right side of the spectrum, one might expect my forecast for 2018 to be even gloomier than my forecast for 2017. However, I am not entirely pessimistic. I do believe we have considerable work to do to improve our local communities, and improve our Commonwealth. All civil rights organizations in Pennsylvania, and there are plenty to choose, will need all the support they can get from people who support our causes. Thus, my prognostications for 2018 are:

1. The United States Supreme Court will rule in favor of the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, and against the Colorado Human Rights Commission. This decision will be a 5 to 4 victory for the conservatives who believe that businesses should be allowed to decide what clientele will enter their shops. Soon enough, across the country, the definitely intended consequence of this ruling will be signs that read "No Gays Allowed." Imagine that sign at hotels, restaurants,  coffeeshops, and other businesses. Worse yet, imagine signs that say NO LGBT people permitted at hospitals, schools or universities, and government agencies. This ruling alone would set back not just marriage equality, but more broadly, equal rights in general.

The way to retaliate against this ruling will be to convince businesses, large and small, to post signs in their store windows welcoming all people regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender identity.  Companies large and small will need training on inclusivity, and making their work space free from discrimination. One other way to address this ruling is to push the Pennsylvania Legislature to pass the bipartisan Pennsylvania Fairness Act. We need to continue reaching out to our elected representatives and senators in Harrisburg and encourage them to pass this bill.

2. The Erie County Council will approve an ordinance making Erie County the first county in the Commonwealth to ban conversion therapy on minors. While Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Reading, and Doylestown Borough have already wiped out this heinous and cruel hoax of a therapy, Erie County will take the lead and address the problem swiftly. To that end, the Pennsylvania Equality Project will need continued support from our Erie County friends and potentially need to address Erie County Council in person. Shy of the legislature in Harrisburg address and approving the bill to ban conversion therapy, municipalities and counties will have to respond at times that Harrisburg cannot or will not.

3. The National Insitutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control will have their funding for HIV and AIDS research and prevention slashed drastically. Donald Trump will make the case that the crisis is practically over, and that the states need to take up a greater share of the costs that stem from infection. Furthermore, both NIH and the CDC will be restricted in discussing HIV, AIDS, and STIs within their budget requests from Congress. This has not happened, and from the news I have read, does not appear to be forthcoming. However, if words like "transgender" and "diversity" can be disavowed by the Trump administration, then HIV and AIDS can be equally curtailed.

4. The Department of Education will continue to have its budget slashed in hopes of trimming the deficit for the over $1.5 Trillion in tax breaks for corporations and the überwealthy. In the process, public schools will lose most of the funding they receive for guidance counselors, drug prevention programs, and anti-bullying efforts. The Department will direct states to fund these programs entirely on their own. In Pennsylvania's case, the legislature will make up the shortfall by directing local school districts to seek an increase in property taxes. The alternative will be a series of unfunded mandates that will cause school districts to increase borrowing to pay for these programs, if they are to be continued.

5. Governor Tom Wolf will be re-elected as Governor of Pennsylvania in November. The results will be so close, that the Republican opponent, Scott Wagner will demand a recount. The Governor will sign a bill this spring that will increase funding for county health departments to continue the ongoing fight against opioid addiction, and provide funding for police departments to use Narcan.

6. With Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania's Physician General by his side, Governor Tom Wolf will announce that insurance for counseling and medical procedures for  transgender youth will be assured through the CHIP program. I predict that Governor Wolf will veto a bill this spring that would attempt to remove such coverage. .

7. With the guidance and assistance of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, thirty more school districts will develop Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs. School district administration and school boards across Pennsylvania will agree that the time has come to recognize that by allowing a club to form, bullying issues will likelier be addressed, and students will feel safer at school.

8. The Pennsylvania Equality Project will have successful "Ban Conversion Therapy Rallies," in Mercer, Armstrong, and Butler counties. As a result of these rallies, greater awareness of this issue will be heard across western Pennsylvania.

9. Tragedy will strike at Pittsburgh's Pride Parade, when water will fall from the sky. It will not, in fact, be raining men.

Those are my 9 predictions for 2018. I hope at least some of these come true. We are in the fight for equality together, and everyone's voices must be heard. Please take a moment to share these predictions, and stay "woke" in 2018.

Happy New Year,

David

Some Gloom, But No Doom: Reprint

Posted by david_m94@hotmail.com on December 31, 2017 at 7:15 PM Comments comments (0)

This post was originally on our previous website. It is worthy of reading just to see if I came anywhere close with my prognostications. Check out the predictions for 2018 on my next blog post tonight!

With 2016 coming to an end, it is time for my predictions for the new year. I am not very optimistic about the chances of much civil rights legislation advancing in Pennsylvania or in Washington. In some ways, I think we will lose many of the rights we have gained, or at least had taken for granted. Thus, my vision for 2017 is:


1. Donald Trump will be sworn into office with minimal fanfare. Kanye West will feel snubbed since he was not chosen to host for the evening, and he will launch his presidential candidacy within minutes of the inauguration. Scott Baio will serve as master of ceremonies for a former-star studded evening that will include Ted Nugent and Kid Rock. Meanwhile, on ABC, an evening with Madonna, Beyonce, Elton John, and every other celebrity who turned down a bid to perform at the inauguration will host a benefit concert for HIV-AIDS awareness.

2. The concert will lead the Nielsen ratings over the television series premiere of The Apprentice Cabinet.

3. Senator Ted Cruz will push for his First Amendment Defense Act. Both the House and the Senate will hold hearings on the bill, and despite dramatic back and forth between Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, the bill will clear final hurdles in the Senate, and arrive at President Trump's desk. He will sign it, and immediately, businesses will put out signs saying "No Gays Allowed." You can take steps to prevent its passage by signing our petition.

4. A new strand of HIV called HIV-2 will become an even deadlier threat. As a result of intense lobbying by Vice President Mike Pence, money that would have been allocated to deal with such a threat will be used instead for other projects, such as electroshocking gay youth.

5. Betsy Devos, the new Secretary of Education, will promote a plan to Congress that will virtually remove all federal funding for education, unless states are willing to institute plans to direct block grant funding to religious-based schools. States will be forced to develop voucher programs, and public schools will continue to suffer from lack of funding. Anti-bullying efforts will be left to private organizations.

6. Non-profit entities such as GLSEN will not be allowed to offer their brochures or programs in schools, because the new voucher program will include a clause that denies LGBTQ groups access to K-12 campuses.

7. In terms of the blood ban against gay men, the FDA will reinstitute more stringent guidelines that will deny gay men to donate blood, even to themselves. As a result, blood banks will notice a 20% decrease in the number of donors they have had from previous years.

8. A record number of people will turn out when PEP marches on the capital in Harrisburg this June to demand passage of the Pennsylvania Fairness Act. Despite our best efforts, legislators will adjourn the session without progress on it, nor the PA 2017-2018 budget. Schools across the Commonwealth will suffer as a result.

9. Erie County will be the first in Pennsylvania to ban the use of conversion therapy on minors. Philadelphia's and Pittsburgh's citywide bans will serve as the basis for the legislation. The Human Rights Commission for Erie County will offer any other counties that inquire, any additional information about why this ban is necessary.

10. Attendance at Pride events across Pennsylvania will be at an all-time high as a record number of straight allies discover all the fun they have been missing. While glitter stockpiles will dwindle, supplies will be replenished in time for Labor Day.

That's it, folks. Some of these predictions are meant to be silly or absurd. Some are meant to be serious wake up calls for times to come. The threat against LGBTQ youth is worse than ever. Meanwhile, we have to fight to protect some semblance of the Affordable Care Act. Abolishing it entirely, which is something Donald Trump has pledged to do, should not happen unless Congress first has in place, a plan that will provide even better coverage for the millions of Americans who otherwise would be left to die for lack of health insurance. With that most unpleasant thought in mind, I wish you all the very best and brightest for the new year, 2017! #LongLiveEquality

In solidarity,

David

On Giving Thanks and Gratitude

Posted by david_m94@hotmail.com on November 23, 2017 at 2:55 PM Comments comments (0)

As today is Thanksgiving, it is appropriate to take time to reflect on the good things that have happened throughout the year and in our past, and to prepare for the coming struggles that lie ahead. Our organization has grown tremendously in six short years, and considerable change has come not just to the LGBTQ community but to our nation, and in turn, our world. Thus, I leave these remarks for all to consider.


I would like to take this opportunity to share some personal reflections about my own life and how they apply to the Pennsylvania Equality Project. First, I admit with no great fanfare, that I am happy in my life as a gay man, and I am equally happy to be married to a woman who has been by my side for the last 28 years. She is incredible simply for putting up with all the work I have done over the years. Much of the Pennsylvania Equality Project's success comes from her ideas, and understanding of the LGBTQ community. However, because I am married to a woman, I find myself with incredible privilege, that I freely accept. I am a white, middle aged male, who by most standards is quite fortunate. For all these things I am grateful. My privilege makes my need to give back to the LGBTQ community all the greater.


Apart from founding the Pennsylvania Equality Project (formerly Marriage Equality for Pennsylvania), I have stood on the front lines in the fight to win equal marriage rights from 2011 through 2014. I have written letters, emailed, and spoken in person with legislators from across Pennsylvania. I have marched in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Erie, and Pittsburgh as part of the fight for marriage rights. I have written and delivered petitions to the Governor seeking an end to conversion therapy, for the Fairness Act, and soon will deliver a petition seeking a change to hate crimes law seeking to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.


More recently, I stood before the school board of the district in which I teach and sought official recognition of a Gay-Straight Alliance Club, which as of November 9 is now functioning in the Conneaut School District. I am the co-adviser, and we have already held our first meeting. We have a subsequent meeting scheduled for after Thanksgiving, and we will be advocating for change. My students could not be happier with the progress, and they realize that finally their school has a welcoming place for them.


Since July 2016, I am an ordained minister through the Universal Life Church. We recognize the need for each individual to follow one's own truth toward life's end. Thus, we recognize that all people have inherent value, worth, and are deserving of dignity and respect. We have two simple tenets in our belief system: 1. Do that which is right by others, and 2. Defend other people's right to freedom of religion. As a personal aside, I am an atheist. I don't believe in a higher power. That said, I don't condemn or defame those who do. I admire their search for the truth, and their acceptance of a belief system that encourages them to do good for other people.


It is my belief system, not a belief in deities, that has led me to reach out to many in need. First, I have been working with some people living in Libya, Syria, and Afghanistan who are seeking asylum out of their respective countries. It is not easy work, and it frequently leaves me feeling disappointed that I cannot do more, and at a faster pace, to help them. They are gay men who live under constant threat of being persecuted, tortured, or killed just because they are gay men. In one particular case, my contact in Libya was dismissed from his college studies and told not to return to the University because he is gay. Despite my efforts and numerous emails to government officials, I have not yet been able to get these men to Europe.


My privilege demands that I fight toward and end to injustice. It demands that I work to ban conversion therapy, that I remember and advocate for the plight of transgender people, especially those of color. My privilege demands that I fight for the safety and protection of our LGBTQ youth from bullying and harm so that they can lead fulfilling and productive lives. Pennsylvania Equality Project holds Meet and Greet opportunities to provide safe space for like-minded people to gather to share in friendship and to build our community. I am obligated to make that happen, not just for the organization, but for the people who are the organization. It is not enough for me simply to walk away from the less fortunate; rather, it is my duty to be grateful for what I have and give what I can to those who need.


What more can you do? How can you express your gratitude for the good things you have, while giving back to the broader community? How can you open safe spaces for the vulnerable in your neighborhood who need extra support and kindness? Come back to this blog from time to time, as I share what our organization is doing to improve Pennsylvania and our community. Be thankful, and enjoy the holiday.


In Solidarity,

David